March 31, 1968
Good evening, my fellow Americans:
Tonight I want to speak to you of peace in Vietnam and
No other question so preoccupies our people. No other
dream so absorbs the 250 million human beings who live
in that part of the world. No other goal motivates American
policy in Southeast Asia.
For years, representatives of our Government and others
have traveled the world - seeking to find a basis for peace
Since last September, they have carried the offer that
I made public at San Antonio.
That offer was this:
That the United States would stop its bombardment of North
Vietnam when that would lead promptly to productive discussions
- and that we would assume that North Vietnam would not
take military advantage of our restraint.
Hanoi denounced this offer, both privately and publicly.
Even while the search for peace was going on, North Vietnam
rushed their preparations for a savage assault on the people,
the government, and the allies of South Vietnam.
Their attack - during the Tet holidays - failed to achieve
its principal objectives. It did not collapse the elected
government of South Vietnam or shatter its army - as the
Communists had hoped.
It did not produce a "general uprising" among
the people of the cities as they had predicted.
The Communists were unable to maintain control of any
of the more than 30 cities that they attacked. And they
took very heavy casualties.
But they did compel the South Vietnamese and their allies
to move certain forces from the countryside into the cities.
They caused widespread disruption and suffering. Their
attacks, and the battles that followed, made refugees of
half a million human beings.
The Communists may renew their attack any day.
They are, it appears, trying to make 1968 the year of
decision in South Vietnam - the year that brings, if not
final victory or defeat, at least a turning point in the
This much is clear:
If they do mount another round of heavy attacks, they
will not succeed in destroying the fighting power of South
Vietnam and its allies.
But tragically, this is also clear: Many men - on both
sides of the struggle - will be lost. A nation that has
already suffered 20 years of warfare will suffer once again.
Armies on both sides will take new casualties. And the
war will go on.
There is no need for this to be so.
There is no need to delay the talks that could bring an
end to this long and this bloody war.
Tonight, I renew the offer I made last August to stop
the bombardment of North Vietnam. We ask that talks begin
promptly, that they be serious talks on the substance of
peace. We assume that during those talks Hanoi will not
take advantage of our restraint.
We are prepared to move immediately toward peace through
So, tonight, in the hope that this action will lead to
early talks, I am taking the first step to de-escalate
the conflict. We are reducing - substantially reducing
the present level of hostilities.
And we are doing so unilaterally, and at once.
Tonight, I have ordered our aircraft and our naval vessels
to make no attacks on North Vietnam, except in the area
north of the demilitarized zone where the continuing enemy
buildup directly threatens allied forward positions and
where the movements of their troops and supplies are clearly
related to that threat.
The area in which we are stopping our attacks includes
almost 90 percent of North Vietnam's population, and most
of its territory. Thus there will be no attacks around
the principal populated areas, or in the food-producing
areas of North Vietnam.
Even this very limited bombing of the North could come
to an early end - if our restraint is matched by restraint
in Hanoi. But I cannot in good conscience stop all bombing
so long as to do so would immediately and directly endanger
the lives of our men and our allies. Whether a complete
bombing halt becomes possible in the future will be determined
Our purpose in this action is to bring about a reduction
in the level of violence that now exists.
It is to save the lives of brave men - and to save the
lives of innocent women and children. It is to permit the
contending forces to move closer to a political settlement.
And tonight, I call upon the United Kingdom and I call
upon the Soviet Union - as cochairmen of the Geneva Conferences,
and as permanent members of the United Nations Security
Council - to do all they can to move from the unilateral
act of de-escalation that I have just announced toward
genuine peace in Southeast Asia.
Now, as in the past, the United States is ready to send
its representatives to any forum, at any time, to discuss
the means of bringing this ugly war to an end.
I am designating one of our most distinguished Americans,
Ambassador Averell Harriman, as my personal representative
for such talks. In addition, I have asked Ambassador Llewellyn
Thompson, who returned from Moscow for consultation, to
be available to join Ambassador Harriman at Geneva or any
other suitable place-just as soon as Hanoi agrees to a
I call upon President Ho Chi Minh to respond positively,
and favorably, to this new step toward peace.
But if peace does not come now through negotiations, it
will come when Hanoi understands that our common resolve
is unshakable, and our common strength is invincible.
Tonight, we and the other allied nations are contributing
600,000 fighting men to assist 700,000 South Vietnamese
troops in defending their little country.
Our presence there has always rested on this basic belief:
The main burden of preserving their freedom must be carried
out by them - by the South Vietnamese themselves.
We and our allies can only help to provide a shield behind
which the people of South Vietnam can survive and can grow
and develop. On their efforts - on their determination
and resourcefulness the outcome will ultimately depend.
That small, beleaguered nation has suffered terrible punishment
for more than 20 years.
I pay tribute once again tonight to the great courage
and endurance of its people.
South Vietnam supports armed forces tonight of almost
700,000 men - and I call your attention to the fact that
this is the equivalent of more than 10 million in our own
population. Its people maintain their firm determination
to be free of domination by the North.
There has been substantial progress, I think, in building
a durable government during these last 3 years. The South
Vietnam of 1965 could not have survived the enemy's Tet
offensive of 1968. The elected government of South Vietnam
survived that attack and is rapidly repairing the devastation
that it wrought.
The South Vietnamese know that further efforts are going
to be required:
-to expand their own armed forces,
-to move back into the countryside as quickly as possible,
-to increase their taxes,
-to select the very best men that they have for civil and military responsibility,
-to achieve a new unity within their constitutional government, and
-to include in the national effort all those groups who wish to preserve South
Vietnam's control over its own destiny.
Last week President Thieu ordered the mobilization of
135,000 additional South Vietnamese. He plans to reach
- as soon as possible - a total military strength of more
than 800,000 men.
To achieve this, the Government of South Vietnam started
the drafting of 19-year-olds on March 1st. On May 1st,
the Government will begin the drafting of 18-year-olds.
Last month, 10,000 men volunteered for military service
- that was two and a half times the number of volunteers
during the same month last year. Since the middle of January,
more than 48,000 South Vietnamese have joined the armed
forces - and nearly half of them volunteered to do so.
All men in the South Vietnamese armed forces have had
their tours of duty extended for the duration of the war,
and reserves are now being called up for immediate active
President Thieu told his people last week:
"We must make greater
efforts and accept more sacrifices because, as I have
said many times, this is our country. The existence of
our nation is at stake, and this is mainly a Vietnamese
He warned his people that a major national effort is required
to root out corruption and incompetence at all levels of
We applaud this evidence of determination on the part
of South Vietnam. Our first priority will be to support
We shall accelerate the reequipment of South Vietnam's
armed forces - in order to meet the enemy's increased firepower.
This will enable them progressively to undertake a larger
share of combat operations against the Communist invaders.
On many occasions I have told the American people that
we would send to Vietnam those forces that are required
to accomplish our mission there. So, with that as our guide,
we have previously authorized a force level of approximately
Some weeks ago - to help meet the enemy's new offensive
- we sent to Vietnam about 11,000 additional Marine and
airborne troops. They were deployed by air in 48 hours,
on an emergency basis. But the artillery, tank, aircraft,
medical, and other units that were needed to work with
and to support these infantry troops in combat could not
then accompany them by air on that short notice.
In order that these forces may reach maximum combat effectiveness,
the Joint Chiefs of Staff have recommended to me that we
should prepare to send - during the next 5 months - support
troops totaling approximately 13,500 men.
A portion of these men will be made available from our
active forces. The balance will come from reserve component
units which will be called up for service.
The actions that we have taken since the beginning of
-to reequip the South Vietnamese forces,
-to meet our responsibilities in Korea, as well as our responsibilities in
-to meet price increases and the cost of activating and deploying reserve forces,
-to replace helicopters and provide the other military supplies we need,
all of these actions are going to require additional expenditures.
The tentative estimate of those additional expenditures
is $2.5 billion in this fiscal year, and $2.6 billion in
the next fiscal year.
These projected increases in expenditures for our national
security will bring into sharper focus the Nation's need
for immediate action: action to protect the prosperity
of the American people and to protect the strength and
the stability of our American dollar.
On many occasions I have pointed out that, without a tax
bill or decreased expenditures, next year's deficit would
again be around $20 billion. l have emphasized the need
to set strict priorities in our spending. l have stressed
that failure to act and to act promptly and decisively
would raise very strong doubts throughout the world about
America's willingness to keep its financial house in order.
Yet Congress has not acted. And tonight we face the sharpest
financial threat in the postwar era - a threat to the dollar's
role as the keystone of international trade and finance
in the world.
Last week, at the monetary conference in Stockholm, the
major industrial countries decided to take a big step toward
creating a new international monetary asset that will strengthen
the international monetary system. l am very proud of the
very able work done by Secretary Fowler and Chairman Martin
of the Federal Reserve Board.
But to make this system work the United States just must
bring its balance of payments to - or very close to - equilibrium.
We must have a responsible fiscal policy in this country.
The passage of a tax bill now, together with expenditure
control that the Congress may desire and dictate, is absolutely
necessary to protect this Nation's security, to continue
our prosperity, and to meet the needs of our people.
What is at stake is 7 years of unparalleled prosperity.
In those 7 years, the real income of the average American,
after taxes, rose by almost 30 percent - a gain as large
as that of the entire preceding 19 years.
So the steps that we must take to convince the world are
exactly the steps we must take to sustain our own economic
strength here at home. In the past 8 months, prices and
interest rates have risen because of our inaction.
We must, therefore, now do everything we can to move from
debate to action - from talking to voting. There is, I
believe-I hope there is-in both Houses of the Congress
- a growing sense of urgency that this situation just must
be acted upon and must be corrected.
My budget in January was, we thought, a tight one. It
fully reflected our evaluation of most of the demanding
needs of this Nation.
But in these budgetary matters, the President does not
decide alone. The Congress has the power and the duty to
determine appropriations and taxes. The Congress is now
considering our proposals and they are considering reductions
in the budget that we submitted.
As part of a program of fiscal restraint that includes
the tax surcharge, I shall approve appropriate reductions
in the January budget when and if Congress so decides that
that should be done.
One thing is unmistakably clear, however: Our deficit
just must be reduced. Failure to act could bring on conditions
that would strike hardest at those people that all of us
are trying so hard to help.
These times call for prudence in this land of plenty.
l believe that we have the character to provide it, and
tonight I plead with the Congress and with the people to
act promptly to serve the national interest, and thereby
serve all of our people. Now let me give you my estimate
of the chances for peace:
-the peace that will one day stop the bloodshed in South
-that will permit all the Vietnamese people to rebuild and develop their land,
-that will permit us to turn more fully to our own tasks here at home.
I cannot promise that the initiative that I have announced
tonight will be completely successful in achieving peace
any more than the 30 others that we have undertaken and
agreed to in recent years.
But it is our fervent hope that North Vietnam, after years
of fighting that have left the issue unresolved, will now
cease its efforts to achieve a military victory and will
join with us in moving toward the peace table.
And there may come a time when South Vietnamese - on both
sides - are able to work out a way to settle their own
differences by free political choice rather than by war.
As Hanoi considers its course, it should be in no doubt
of our intentions. It must not miscalculate the pressures
within our democracy in this election year.
We have no intention of widening this war.
But the United States will never accept a fake solution
to this long and arduous struggle and call it peace.
No one can foretell the precise terms of an eventual settlement.
Our objective in South Vietnam has never been the annihilation
of the enemy.
It has been to bring about a recognition in Hanoi that
its objective - taking over the South by force - could
not be achieved.
We think that peace can be based on the Geneva Accords
of 1954 - under political conditions that permit the South
Vietnamese - all the South Vietnamese - to chart their
course free of any outside domination or interference,
from us or from anyone else.
So tonight I reaffirm the pledge that we made at Manila
- that we are prepared to withdraw our forces from South
Vietnam as the other side withdraws its forces to the north,
stops the infiltration, and the level of violence thus
Our goal of peace and self-determination in Vietnam is
directly related to the future of all of Southeast Asia
- where much has happened to inspire confidence during
the past 10 years. We have done all that we knew how to
do to contribute and to help build that confidence.
A number of its nations have shown what can be accomplished
under conditions of security. Since 1966, Indonesia, the
fifth largest nation in all the world, with a population
of more than 100 million people, has had a government that
is dedicated to peace with its neighbors and improved conditions
for its own people. Political and economic cooperation
between nations has grown rapidly.
I think every American can take a great deal of pride
in the role that we have played in bringing this about
in Southeast Asia. We can rightly judge as responsible
Southeast Asians themselves do - that the progress of the
past 3 years would have been far less likely - if not completely
impossible - if America's sons and others had not made
their stand in Vietnam.
At Johns Hopkins University, about 3 years ago, l announced
that the United States would take part in the great work
of developing Southeast Asia, including the Mekong Valley,
for all the people of that region. Our determination to
help build a better land - a better land for men on both
sides of the present conflict - has not diminished in the
least. Indeed, the ravages of war, I think, have made it
more urgent than ever.
So, I repeat on behalf of the United States again tonight
what I said at Johns Hopkins - that North Vietnam could
take its place in this common effort just as soon as peace
Over time, a wider framework of peace and security in
Southeast Asia may become possible. The new cooperation
of the nations of the area could be a foundation-stone.
Certainly friendship with the nations of such a Southeast
Asia is what the United States seeks and that is all that
the United States seeks.
One day, my fellow citizens, there will be peace in Southeast
It will come because the people of Southeast Asia want
it - those whose armies are at war tonight, and those who,
though threatened, have thus far been spared. Peace will
come because Asians were willing to work for it - and to
sacrifice for it - and to die by the thousands for it.
But let it never be forgotten: Peace will come also because
America sent her sons to help secure it.
It has not been easy - far from it. During the past 4
1/2 years, it has been my fate and my responsibility to
be Commander in Chief. I have lived - daily and nightly
- with the cost of this war. l know the pain that it has
inflicted. I know, perhaps better than anyone, the misgivings
that it has aroused.
Throughout this entire, long period, I have been sustained
by a single principle:
that what we are doing now, in Vietnam, is vital not only
to the security of Southeast Asia, but it is vital to the
security of every American.
Surely we have treaties which we must respect. Surely
we have commitments that we are going to keep. Resolutions
of the Congress testify to the need to resist aggression
in the world and in Southeast Asia.
But the heart of our involvement in South Vietnam - under
three different Presidents, three separate administrations
- has always been America's own security.
And the larger purpose of our involvement has always been
to help the nations of Southeast Asia become independent
and stand alone, self-sustaining, as members of a great
world community - at peace with themselves, and at peace
with all others.
With such an Asia, our country-and the world will be far
more secure than it is tonight.
I believe that a peaceful Asia is far nearer to reality
because of what America has done in Vietnam. l believe
that the men who endure the dangers of battle fighting
there for us tonight - are helping the entire world avoid
far greater conflicts, far wider wars, far more destruction,
than this one.
The peace that will bring them home someday will come.
Tonight I have offered the first in what I hope will be
a series of mutual moves toward peace.
I pray that it will not be rejected by the leaders of
North Vietnam. I pray that they will accept it as a means
by which the sacrifices of their own people may be ended.
And I ask your help and your support, my fellow citizens,
for this effort to reach across the battlefield toward
an early peace.
Finally, my fellow Americans, let me say this:
Of those to whom much is given, much is asked. l cannot
say and no man could say that no more will be asked of
Yet, l believe that
now, no less than when the decade began, this generation
of Americans is willing to "pay
any price, bear any burden, meet any hardship, support
any friend, oppose any foe to assure the survival and the
success of liberty."
Since those words were spoken by John F. Kennedy, the
people of America have kept that compact with mankind's
And we shall continue to keep it.
Yet, I believe that we must always be mindful of this
one thing, whatever the trials and the tests ahead. The
ultimate strength of our country and our cause will lie
not in powerful weapons or infinite resources or boundless
wealth, but will lie in the unity of our people.
This I believe very deeply.
Throughout my entire public career I have followed the
personal philosophy that I am a free man, an American,
a public servant, and a member of my party, in that order
always and only.
For 37 years in the service of our Nation, first as a
Congressman, as a Senator, and as Vice President, and now
as your President, l have put the unity of the people first.
l have put it ahead of any divisive partisanship.
And in these times as in times before, it is true that
a house divided against itself by the spirit of faction,
of party, of region, of religion, of race, is a house that
There is division in the American house now.
There is divisiveness among us all tonight. And holding
the trust that is mine, as President of all the people,
l cannot disregard the peril to the progress of the American
people and the hope and the prospect of peace for all peoples.
So, I would ask all Americans, whatever their personal
interests or concern, to guard against divisiveness and
all its ugly consequences.
Fifty-two months and 10 days ago, in a moment of tragedy
and trauma, the duties of this office fell upon me. I asked
then for your help and God's, that we might continue America
on its course, binding up our wounds, healing our history,
moving forward in new unity, to clear the American agenda
and to keep the American commitment for all of our people.
United we have kept that commitment. United we have enlarged
Through all time to come, l think America will be a stronger
nation, a more just society, and a land of greater opportunity
and fulfillment because of what we have all done together
in these years of unparalleled achievement.
Our reward will come in the life of freedom, peace, and
hope that our children will enjoy through ages ahead.
What we won when all of our people united just must not
now be lost in suspicion, distrust, selfishness, and politics
among any of our people.
Believing this as I do, I have concluded that I should
not permit the Presidency to become involved in the partisan
divisions that are developing in this political year.
With America's sons in the fields far away, with America's
future under challenge right here at home, with our hopes
and the world's hopes for peace in the balance every day,
l do not believe that I should devote an hour or a day
of my time to any personal partisan causes or to any duties
other than the awesome duties of this office - the Presidency
of your country.
Accordingly, l shall not seek, and I will not accept,
the nomination of my party for another term as your President.
But let men everywhere know, however, that a strong, a
confident, and a vigilant America stands ready tonight
to seek an honorable peace - and stands ready tonight to
defend an honored cause whatever the price, whatever the
burden, whatever the sacrifice that duty may require.
Thank you for listening.
Good night and God bless all of you.